Defunct British duo Broadcast has most of their catalog reissued this week, including Tender Buttons. The band’s haunting third album is undoubtedly their high-water mark. Released in 2005, it slowly but surely raised the band’s profile, landing on several year-end best-of lists, drawing more attention to their previous albums and putting them at the upper echelon of independent artists, before their career was tragically cut short by the death of singer Trish Keenan.
I first heard Broadcast while perusing said year-end lists. (Also, wow to a list of albums so good that this is only No. 22; the early-to-mid-2000s are more than due for a resurgence.) But Broadcast’s tasteful oddity of an album somehow outlasts any other record made that year.
The key to Tender Buttons’ (and Broadcast’s) continuing endurance is how unassuming it is. Fourteen trim tracks (save five-minute noise piece “Arc of a Journey”) that actually sound like they were made by two people, using instruments that sound like they were found through a year’s worth of estate sales, Tender Buttons avoids sounding pretentious because it never really claims to be more than it is, Gertrude Stein references and all. It’s a record that remains mysterious even though all of its elements are basically at the forefront. Keenan’s vocals remain clarion despite getting plenty of the reverb treatment, thanks to her erudite British diction. All those moogs that sound like they’re falling apart, stitched together by James Cargill’s web-like guitarwork and pumping basslines, even those roaring in the background, you can pretty much hear it all, yet it feels like facing mirrors stretching to infinity, given the sense of space their layering allows.